American entertainer Carol Burnett and her sister were both raised by their loving grandmother. It has long been a matter of public record that Burnett credits her grandmother for encouraging her to utilize her comic and musical talents to the fullest. Working her way through UCLA, she majored in English and Theater arts, gradually developing the poise and self-confidence to tackle an entertainment career. After nightclub work, Burnett was spotlighted on the variety programs of Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan, and Jack Paar, bringing down the house on Paar's program with the specialty ballad "I Made a Fool of Myself over John Foster Dulles."
In 1956, Burnett co-starred with Buddy Hackett in the live TV sitcom Stanley, which unfortunately was scheduled opposite the indestructible Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. A near-star several times over, Burnett finally grabbed the brass ring with her bravura performance in the 1959 off-Broadway musical Once Upon a Mattress, which led to a three-season stint as a regular on The Garry Moore Show. An Emmy award resulted from her contribution to Moore, and another Emmy followed for a 1962 joint appearance with Julie Andrews at Carnegie Hall. Some of her comedy of the era was the self-deprecating sort allotted to women who weren't raving beauties, but she transcended the cruelty of the jokes with an inner beauty that one would have to be blind to miss. As a slapstick comedienne Burnett was unrivalled, even by the sainted Lucille Ball, and on occasion she was allowed to drop the comic mask and deliver a heart-rending ballad. In 1962, CBS signed Burnett to a long term contract under the supervision of her then-husband, producer Joe Hamilton. After an uncomfortable few months in 1964 in which the producers of the Broadway production Fade Out Fade In sued Burnett for abandoning the play to appear in a weekly variety series The Entertainers, her post-Garry Moore career moved along unevenly. She was advised to sign for another series but avoided the option of situation comedy (she once insisted that she didn't want to be trapped playing someone named Agnes every week).
In 1967, virtually out of desperation for a workable idea, The Carol Burnett Show premiered on CBS. Burnett patterned the program after Garry Moore's opening monologue, brief sketches with continuing characters, parodies, musical bits, and a closing all-star musical comedy production number. With such first-rate supporting talent as Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway, The Carol Burnett Show was a ratings-grabber until its final telecast in 1978. Carol Burnett's life and career since then has been distinguished by as many valleys as peaks. Her film career never truly got off the ground, despite excellent performances in such pictures as Pete 'N' Tillie (1972) and A Wedding (1978). Nevertheless, Carol Burnett has more than earned her place in the pantheon of television giants.
Burnett would remain active in the coming decades, starring in everything from the classic musical Annie to the sitcom Mama's Family, not to mention making inumerable appearances on shows like Touched By an Angel, Mad About You, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and Glee. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi